CLASS OF 1956
Selby Buck is arguably the most successful high school coach that Macon has ever produced. Buck had an accomplished athletic career of his own. He was a member of the 1920 U.S. Olympic Water Polo team, and partnered to win a U.S. Army doubles tennis crown in Germany in 1921. Buck spent 30 years at Lanier High School from 1925 to 1955. His football teams compiled a remarkable 167-71-13 record claiming five state titles: 1931, 1932, 1936, 1947, and 1948. Buck coached many standout players at Lanier but stated that Vernon “Catfish” Smith (who later starred at Georgia) was his most outstanding player. In addition to coaching football, Buck led the Poets basketball teams to 11 state titles and he amassed a 491-140 career record on the hardwood. Just to top it off, Buck coached the Lanier baseball team and won 2 more additional state titles. Buck was instrumental in the formation of the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association.
Clint Castleberry attended Boys High School in Atlanta (currently known as Grady High School). He was considered too was small for college football at 5’9″ and 155 pounds, but Georgia Tech took a chance on the dazzling playmaker. Freshmen could not play varsity college football in 1942, but the rule was changed that season because of the shortage of players drained by World War II. Castleberry was a back for the Jackets on offense, but also played on special teams and as a defensive back. Tech defeated Notre Dame, Navy, and Florida marching to a 9-0 record before losing the final 2 games including a 34-0 blowout loss to Georgia led by Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich. Castleberry finished third in voting behind Sinkwich and Columbia’s Paul Governali for the award. Castleberry joined the Army Air Forces and planned on resuming his football career after the war. However, on a mission in Liberia in 1944, the plane piloted by Castleberry disappeared and was never found. He is a member of the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame and is the only Georgia Tech football player to have their number retired.
JOE H. JENKINS
Joseph Jenkins was an outstanding athlete who took his talents to the sidelines. He was instrumental in organizing basketball teams in many Georgia towns including Mineral Bluff, Omega, and Norman Institute. He was credited with creating “Basketball Mania” in the small town of Vienna in the late 1920’s. Jenkins, an ordained Baptist minister, was Superintendent of the city schools and doubled as Head Coach of the Vienna boys basketball team. In 1925, Jenkins orchestrated the efforts to build a gymnasium in Vienna as the new game of basketball was being enthusiastically embraced by the students and townspeople. The next year Coach Jenkins put together a team that would become known as The “Wonder Five.” Led by center Ted Raines, Vienna competed successfully against teams from much larger schools like Macon, Savannah, and Athens. In 1928 and 1929 the team was invited to the National High School Championship in Chicago. Jenkins would coach for 22 years before retiring. In addition to his basketball success he managed 2 State Championship baseball teams at Norman.
VERNON "CATFISH" SMITH
Vernon “Catfish” Smith was an All-State football, basketball and baseball player at Lanier High School in the late 1920’s and then was a three-sport athlete at the University of Georgia. His nickname "Catfish" is attributed to a story in which he bit the head off of one as a 25-cent bet while a student at Lanier. In 1929, he scored all 15 points for Georgia in an upset of Yale- scoring one touchdown by falling on a blocked punt in the end zone and another by receiving a pass, kicking an extra point and tackling a Yale player for a safety. The game was the first-ever played at Sanford Stadium. Smith was named to the 1931 College Football All-America Team. After completing his Georgia career, Smith went into coaching football at Georgia, the University of South Carolina and the University of Mississippi. He was also the head baseball coach at Georgia and South Carolina. He then joined the United States Army Air Forces, retiring in 1963 with the rank of colonel.
CLAUDE T. "GABE" TOLBERT
Born in Nicholson, Georgia, Claude “Gabe” Tolbert coached multiple sports at Gainesville High School, Georgia Military Academy in Milledgeville and Tech High School in Atlanta. He led the Tech Smithies to GIAA State Titles in both 1924 and 1928. Overall he posted a 134-61-17 record as a football coach with 3 State Championships. He also compiled an impressive mark of 200‐55 in basketball and his baseball record was 140‐28. In a 20-year coaching career, Tolbert captured 18 championships in basketball and 11 in baseball. He was also a co‐organizer of the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association.
Savannah native John Varnedoe attended Mercer University in Macon but after graduation in 1927 he returned to his native Savannah and embarked on an illustrious coaching career. Varnedoe returned to his alma mater, Savannah High School, and joined their coaching staff, eventually becoming the head man. He was the first coach to have his football team in historic Grayson Stadium, and coached the Blue Jackets in the first night game ever played in Savannah. He would claim 4 state titles at the school including 2 in basketball. His basketball teams won state championships in 1936 and 1937; both years the team also won the sectional high school tournament at Washington & Lee University in Virginia. One of Varnedoe’s basketball teams advanced to the semifinals of the national high school tournament in Chicago. Varnedoe remained at Savannah High School for ten years. He also had stops at Newnan High School as well as Emmanuel County Institute producing many outstanding players that advanced into the collegiate, professional, and coaching ranks.